BY TAMARA AUDI
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Federal agents will begin randomly stopping traffic today, looking for illegal immigrants, terrorists and drug or weapon smugglers.
Cars will be stopped at unannounced, rotating checkpoints within Michigan, including metro Detroit. U.S. Border Patrol agents at the checkpoints will ask passengers their citizenship and will have leeway to ask a host of follow-up questions.
The effort is part of President George W. Bush's attempt to increase security along the northern border, said Immigration and Naturalization spokeswoman Karen Kraushaar.
According to an obscure but long-standing federal law, the government can conduct searches and surveillance within 25 miles of any international border.
The practice of internal checkpoints is common in Texas and California, states along the southwest border.
Michigan is among the first of the northern border states to be included in the program.
Though agents will focus on finding undocumented immigrants, the checkpoints on the southern border have helped net drugs and weapons, patrol agents and officials said.
"Those checkpoints would yield quite a few arrests," said Robert Lindemann, vice president of Michigan's border patrol union and a patrol agent in Detroit. Lindemann used to work checkpoints near the southern border. "We got drugs, we got aliens, we got convicts. The checkpoints on the southwest border are critical."
In Michigan, federal officials hope the checkpoints will also help them catch terrorists.
"The terrorism component cannot be ignored in addressing border security," Kraushaar said.
Lindemann and other agents said it's too soon to tell how successful the checkpoints will be. One feature that is bound to carry over from the southern border is traffic, they said. Checkpoints cause back-ups.
Federal officials would not say Monday how many checkpoints there will be, or how often Michigan drivers can expect to be stopped. More details on the program are to be released at a news conference in Kimball Township today.
Meanwhile, civil liberty groups raised concerns.
"We believe it's going to be very hard for them to do this without violating people's civil rights, or profiling people based on their ethnicity or accent," said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan.
U.S. citizens are not required to carry proof of identification with them while traveling in the country. Alien residents are required to carry some paperwork.
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